Laguna–Then and Now

I’m sitting on the front porch of my husband’s family home on Griffith Way. It’s early June, and I’m wrapped in a sweater and a hoodie. The air is clean, the breeze cool. I am instantly taken back to my first visit to Laguna. We had been dating for six months, and decided to drive from Albuquerque to Laguna so that I could meet his mom and brothers. My first sensory impression when we drove through the canyon was the air: cool, clean, somewhat humid, but with the smell of the sea. When people think of California, they think of sun and surf, but what they don’t realize is it gets cold in the morning and evening. And the marine layer can take time to burn off in June. You need a jacket.

On that first trip, we went to the Sawdust Festival. Arts and crafts lined the walls of each booth and the floors were indeed covered in sawdust. Laguna had an amazing artist community back then, and there was a bohemian feel to the village. Griffith Way is named after one of those artists. Just walking through the eucalyptus tree-lined streets I loved watching families on their porches with friends drinking wine and listening to music from a not so far off past. Lemon trees and succulents thrived in this environment, and they still do. The difference now is I see fewer families on verandas and miss the small village feel. The camaraderie of neighbors seems lost. Everyone is still friendly, but so many of the locals from the past have left, and we don’t recognize too many people now when we stroll along Main Beach. 

Heisler Park still has a wide swath of diversity. Inland families come to the park and cook out, play music, and relax with one another. The variety of flora is remarkable and the views are the best in the world. The families, the flowers, the view gives way to PCH. It is crowded and cramped with fast moving Lamborghinis, Maseratis, McLarens, and Ferraris. Don’t get me wrong. I love the artistic value of a beautiful car, and it is like a parade of the most magnificent mechanical creations on earth. But I can’t call Laguna quaint or even a village.

On my first trip here, I remember my mother-in-law volunteering at the polling center as well as the library. She embraced her community, and it embraced her. She brought her sons here in the 70s from Albuquerque, so that they would have the best schools and a safe environment to thrive in. My husband and his three brothers all graduated from Laguna Beach High School, but back in those days the sports teams were called the Artists. Now, they are the Breakers. I’m just wondering, did they need a more macho sounding name? Were the Artists too passive? Can you be a winning team with a name like the Artists? 

Somehow our most memorable, simple, and comforting spaces have been overtaken by new faces and sometimes celebrity and wealth. When they took out The Jolly Roger (where the waitresses remembered you, and knew you would order the sourdough french toast so that you could get an extra slice), a landmark was erased. Then the Laguna Beach cookie company that sold broken cookies at a discount was gone, along with Treasure Island, the artist’s and surfer’s trailer park that was replaced with the Montage. Then Acords Market fell to Whole Foods. Acords made the best pastrami sandwiches in the world, and we would always get one before walking down to the beach. But maybe, just maybe, Bushard’s (my favorite apothecary) will stay on Forest Avenue forever.  

The community that was prevalent in the 1980s is gone, and a new kind of Laguna has emerged. Of course, it is inevitable. But what can’t be removed is the slow, hushed glide of a line of pelicans moving gracefully across the sky. There will always be June gloom, which can deter tourists until July, and then that crisp, fresh breath of sea air, and a peaceful blanket of marine layer that can make your morning more than a mere meditative moment. It can be a transcendental experience that sticks with you and sustains you even as you get back on the airplane back home.


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